Post THREE: Life, Interrupted, Emotions in the 2nd and 3rd week of coronavirus

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This post is a continuation of the series I have written about the 40 known subjects I interviewed as part of an informal qualitative research study on COVID-19. If you didn’t read part 1 first, it is here. If you need to read part 2, it is here. If you already both, keep reading…

 

Post 3: Emotional Reactions to Others in their Immediate Circle and Beyond, and Parenting in Lockdown

“I think, maybe I am not as good a mom as I want to be. I am not as ‘fun’ of a mom as I want to be. The fact that it is really difficult to parent all day. Especially in about a thousand square feet and without a lot of non-essentials. I think I could be doing better, but I am too exhausted.”

“What concerns me, is I am an able-bodied parent with wifi— I cannot imagine what parents are doing who have less. What will happen with these kids who are left behind?”

“This has given me a great vantage point to see: is that true? The people at the gym are call themselves a ‘community’ but are we? Or just people that go to the same place? What kinds of things enable people to connect and support each other?”

“I started hearing about people like me, straight up dying. Now it is like, I dont want to get this.Before, I was like, I dont want to spread it,but now, I dont want to get it.”

“Surgical masks are like throwing a tissue at diarrhea”

“With no day-to-day interactions— and only phone calls and stuff— I noticed a lot of my friendships were based around seeing people at school drop-off and 5- minutes of chatting. We did not ever sit down to have an hour-long conversation.”

To see them sit at attention for a music class singing songs right on beat and know every word— holy crap! You see a new side of your kids. We had never heard those [songs] before.”

“We have negotiated just how we back each other up. And the ways we support each other., In general we try to have a playful and healthy relationship. Make each other laugh and quality time, even if just sharing memes. We trade off when we can see one is super frustrated [with our kids]— tag out, Ill take over.”

“I think it is related to a paradox a lot of people arent aware of that exists in lives, true for everyone, constraint and structure is what produces those things. Not having ALL the time in the world is the thing that produces the desire to make certain commitments with the time you do have and the constraint and obligations is a critical ingredient to help us wade through the options which feels lackluster without it. Like a paralysis of analysis, degrade into watching TV”

“Oversimplifying here— on the whole, there are two stories that are told in America. One story is, we are a bootstraps country, and anything is possible if you are strong and pull yourself up. The other story is we are a country of helpers, and wee look out for our neighbors and we are only as strong as those we support. I think unless something really cuts below that, people can find a way to confirm one of those two stories. We pulled up or we helped ourselves and solved it as a community.”

 

People Felt a Strengthened Sense of Community at the Local Level

Especially on local level, people seemed to come together in the pandemic, marshaling resources, looking after one another, and spreading goodwill among those around them, which fostered compassion and a growing sense of community and helped to mitigate feelings of helplessness people experienced when thinking about the vast scale of the pandemic

      • “This has brought up a lot of different experiences for people and I guess I am hopeful it will bring people closer together. I have seen a lot fo encouraging things of people helping other people and like I said, when we go out with something we check with neighbors and family and see if they need anything. There is a lot of that happening around, and even though we are not as physically connected as we typically are it almost feels like we are more conscious of each other and more emotionally connected in some ways”
      • “I think I was skeptical to how people would respond to stay-home, and aside from the toilet paper hoarding, I was hopeful about a sense of community. Today on Facebook, people on ‘Buy Nothing’ were like, ‘This grocery store has toilet paper— head’s up,’ and I got in my car and ran to get some. There is (normally) not a sense of community here, so I am hopeful in a weird way this creates a sense of community”
      • “It is the small things sometimes. Early on, I had to travel for work. Everyone I sat on the plane with me, and pulled out Lysol wipes, and pulled out the tables, and gave me one, and I was like, who wants the sanitizer?!”
      • “Everybody is dealing with this weird set of circumstances we are in, and I have seen a lot fo compassion in my community for everyone. Trying to help in whatever way they can. Being each others cheerleaders”
      • “We have Facebook groups, the community outpouring— you’ll see, ‘We need 300 masks for the nursing home.’ People say, ‘I have 100, pick up here.’ They sew or take apart bungee chords or coffee bags. They are doing a lot while quarantined, and I love that. There is a children’s book called “Going on a Bear Hunt.” So people are putting stuffed animals in the windows so the kids can count bears in the car. That is so precious. One counted 200 bears, drawing them or chalking them on sidewalks.”
      • “So many families who cant leave their houses, so neighbors signed up and the numbers were shocking. A lot of people are learning they do want to help and participate in caring for everybody, and a lot of us dont do it usually, because we dont have time or money. But if we say, ‘here is this thing I CAN do and here is this other thing I CAN do’”

That Said, Anger or Disgust Flared for “Others” Not Following the Same Rules

When interacting with those outside their immediate social circles, people often flashed to anger, disgust, or contempt for others who might not have been observing isolation or distancing rules in the exact same manner — these flares of anger could be vitriolic. This anger with “others” stood in stark contrast to the community bond that people simultaneously felt, and few reconciled the the two opposed emotions

      • “I want to get an uzi and shoot people not standing 6-feet apart. I hate them. I am going to start yelling at them. Generational hatred, they are young and think they are immortal. I secretly wish they get it and die.”
      • “I was on the elevator and a guy was there with the dog and started to get on, and I was like, ‘I will get off if you will get on.’ He thought I was worried about his dog. And I was like, ‘I am not worried about the dog.’ It floored me that this week, someone does not get the severity of this, and wants to get on the elevator with me. I was pissed. He was like, ‘I’ll wait.’”
      • “I see crap like on social media of people on the beach not social distancing, and it is such a privilege right now to be a person who is healthy and has insurance and still has a job and can pay bills— there are so many people who don’t have that. That ANY person who has any of those things, and is still not acting like this is the most serious thing on the planet?! It is unconscionable.”
      • “The most surprising thing is I am PISSED, I am surprised about having to take care of my emotions and calm myself down. Kids in playgrounds, I walk by and it is full on sunny days. These a**holes with their kids playing on the playground. The shocking stupidity. This might be one of the stupidest countries in the world”
      • “One thing that I am noticing for myself is the judge or critic. When I get righteous, being really curious about that. The work is really noticing that is ME, and it is not a productive behavior. When I saw people out and about, my instinct was,they shouldnt be doing thatand getting righteous. What I know is, that is just everyone has their own thing. Integrity looks different for each of us.”

People Were Both More Casual and Intentional with Communication to Others—

Communication styles under lockdown became both more casual (reaching out on a whim without fear of interruption) and also more planned (coordination of times and small groups)—a silver lining of the lockdown, people reconnected to others from their past, talking to acquaintances, friends, and family who they did not generally cross paths with in day-to-day life, focusing back on forgotten relationships they once derived value from. They became more intentional about cultivating these, since daily life interactions came to a halt.

      • “The most interesting thing— I have friends in so many places, but it is easier to see people near you.Physical closeness makes it easy to pop buy and have a drink after work. I am seeing and talking to more people I am dispersed from, but connected to. More Zoom calls now. We are in the kitchen cooking and they are doing what they are doing. We have never been FaceTime people but I kinda get it now”
      • “We talked for 3 hours with friends from around the world and it was enjoyable, but we never do that. Actually taking the time, and no plan for when it will end, vs. connecting in-passing. Fika’— is a Swedish term for when you go for coffee and have no planned time for when it ends. It ends hours later.”
      • “Feels like intentional communication instead of unintentional. It is easy to fill your schedule. But when you have to plan with multiple people, this time and this day, it is intentional. The communication I have with them is more meaningful, not just filling space. We make it count”

Nearly considered passé, talking on the phone (rather than texting) made a comeback in the first few weeks of lockdown, and FaceTiming also increased in usage — since obligations outside the home were gone, there was no barrier to picking up the phone 

      • “I am calling people on the phone. The shift in working environments, and you have to call people more frequently. Calling friends is not something I typically do and I am doing it more often. I could call someone here (in my city), but you might as well call someone far away. No more, ‘Are you out? Am I interrupting?’ NOPE! No one is interrupting anything”
      • “Connecting with a lot of people much more. We have the technology for texting and FaceTime, so I cant remember last time I had a conversation on the phone. I have done that SO MUCH (lately), to see how people are doing or have that voice on the other end.”
      • “I have gotten back in touch with a friend, and he and I have not seen each other in ten years. I have seen his face for the first time in ten years. Interesting how this pandemic has gotten me in touch with people. We are not getting out and seeing the people on a regular basis. If you just send them a little message, everyone is looking for ways to connect.”
      • “It is funny, I have always liked talking on the phone and now, this has made it OK for people to talk on the phone— so, ‘yeah, b*tch, pick up the phone!’ My evenings are social calls on Zoom and such.”

Women, especially, seemed to be coordinating calls with small core groups of longtime friends, which helped them cope with the lockdown— these old friends had often dispersed to different locations after early life or school or college, and rarely caught up as a unit, due to distance or the logistical challenge of getting multiple parties together; these groups

      • “Three girls I am good friends with from college, we all have kids born in 4 months of each other. We do Group FaceTime, I feel like being able to connect like that has been fulfilling.”
      • “Wine dates or watch TV together like we do in college, watch Survivor together— why have we not been doing this the last 15 years? Not as frequently because people will not be housebound but I would like to. I want to be keeping in touch with people, it is a refreshing reminder.”
      • “We have done total family Zoom sessions once a week. And talking about real check-ins, youngest to eldest to my father and the youngest is 1. Everyone is sharing about how they are doing and we tried this week to share % values, new way to listen to one another. A different quality” “I have a close set of friends, 4 friends since middle school, going on 20 years now of friendship. We are all in different states and fields and we usually do not talk. We are doing bi-weekly calls, and a couple of them know me the best. To have that connection with people who know you the most and the surest thing in your life, has been great. We communicate in a few video calls a week. Real, honest-to-God hours. We don’t try to make it (lockdown) fun and pretend it is something it is not. True connection, tell me what happened because this is hard.”

People Often Deepened in Appreciation for their Partner —

Couples spend much of their days apart in typical conditions, but under these circumstances in which one or both professional partners could be working from home, the tight quarters worked to deepen their mutual understanding — couples, particularly those without children, seemed able to re-focus on one another in meaningful ways, appreciating each other’s company, contributions, and character anew

This increased empathy often came from bearing witness to what was previously hidden from view— seeing (or hearing) first-hand elements like a partner’s work requirements, commitments to caring for kids or other family members, or small acts in service of daily housebound life that would otherwise have remained unseen

      • “I dont think he [my husband] sees me work very often— as I do not work from home typically in this manner. That has been interesting, he has just gotten to see and hear it (for the first time). We have been together one billion years”
      • “An interesting and surprising outcome is that my relationship with my partner has gotten exponentially better. We are around each other a lot more, we spend more quality time together. Getting to be around my family, even mundane interactions become beautiful and tender. My relationships with my family are becoming tight and beautiful. Sometimes I spend 8-10 hours out of the house every day [at work] and my schedule means when I am home, the structure is not conducive to connection. It’s like, ‘oops, 9 oclock, time to start getting ready for bed.’”
      • “Feels like such a crucible for personal relationships— you can’t GO anywhere else. In a way, it will be difficult once it is over, there will be a big separation. As bored as I am and stir crazy, I am already trying to figure out how I can retain the close-knit stuff this is starting to create between me and my partner. I don’t want to lose that. These are things I have been missing in my life and they are beautiful and I want to keep them. How do I do that when I go back to work?”
      • “I really enjoy my wifes company. If I have to be locked up with somebody, I am glad it is her. We are enjoying being together and how much that matters. You can have a good marriage for all kinds of reasons and not actually enjoy being together.”
      • “We are actually home and together and I like that, it is positive effect. We have been really good, sometimes traveling all the time, there is the stress of the outside world and right now, we dont have a commute we are done at the end of the day — we are going to be in the kitchen or living room together, and we are taking walks”
      • “He is so patient— I see it more and more and more. Even with me, he is pulling his weight a lot more than I am, because I get exhausted and he is like we have to bathe and feed them and do laundry— super-active. It makes me realize he is doing a ton fo stuff. He is really good at self-care, and I have always struggled more with that. I am seeing how he is doing it. DRINK WATER, hydrate or stand up you have been sitting— he reminds me to get up. Throw a load of laundry in.”
      • “When I go away to work, I am not paying attention to the house when I am gone. Getting to be here, I see how much she puts into our home EVERY SINGLE DAY. I think that it is really easy for me going away to a job to have this conception my partner works from home so WHY ISNT the kitchen clean when I get home?! Well, what the hell?! I now see firsthand what her life is everyday, and it has created a lot of admiration on my behalf. I have gotten to be a witness.”
      • “I am also making way more of an effort to be patient with my partner because we are both working from home. We are intentionally being a lot nicer to each other. I am trying to watch for short fuses.”
      • “My husband does not have a commute anymore, and so he does not come home like. I can have more compassion for him because I hear him on calls. And he is not riling himself up or revving up or unloading after traffic. You are grounded and here the whole time. I can tell (by his voice) when something is stressful. Usually I come home and try to be happy and usually he comes home angry and now, I am not quite as perky as I try to be when I generally come home. A great leveler.”

Households with Multiple Kids Spending More Time, but with Far Less Quality—

Especially in homes with more than one younger child, while the ‘time spent’ together quotient was technically increased under lockdown, the quality decreased; especially moms were taxed as they cared for kids and continued working as well— dividing time between work and kids was always an issue, but juggling them at the simultaneously was not always the case; where multiple kids needed individual help on homework or projects, attention fragmented further, meaning the family was scarcely all together

      • “The days legitimately fly by. We are racing around like maniacs. The days fly by— I cannot believe it is lunchtime, and then all the sudden, dinner time. The nights feel shorter. It feels like we are a week and a half into school being cancelled. Time goes quickly anyway with kids but this is hyper-speed”
      • “Very busy, work has not died. We have a house where we can separate but we end up congregating in the same area to keep one eye or ear on them. If someone needs help hopefully someone can pause. It is a zone defense at this point. Who needs a snack? Figuring it out every day. We look at each other’s schedules, who has the most important meeting?”
      • “I am tightly wound around my kids right now. They will melt down about the silliest thing, it is easier to snap and yell and I should approach it calmly, my 7-year-old is a little emotionally immature in dealing with her feelings and I can tell this has been a big issue and change in routine, and when she used to say she would rather hang out with me than go to school and now she misses social time. She has been quick to whine and cry. I don’t know, it has been interesting because it opens new avenues for her to talk with friends and we had never done that before. See her as a social pre-teen type personality emerging that was only something she did at school and now I hear the conversations and wow, here are the things you talk about all day, OK. She might keep up with calling friends.”
      • I feel we have less quality time, because we are together more often but things are more compartmentalized. I do 1-hour of time working with one kid, so the others have to be distracted somewhere else. And another has to be sent away for homework, and I have been with them all day long, and so I need a break at the end of the day and go for a walk, but now that time is tense— and so much more wrapped into that time, that I need more than an hour. My husband takes them away from me or I take him away from them. We need breaks from each other.”
      • “Our world is mostly normal except that the kids are here. The reality is, I am very lucky to have these three clients and income. So I will make whatever sacrifices I need to. I am working 10-12 hour days and work in 7 hours of teaching instruction and it’s tough. Who do I short shrift? My clients or kids?”

Parents of One Kid Have the Bandwidth to Focus on Quality Time—

      • “I feel almost like this one should be overlaid with guilt, but it is SO HAPPY, this idea of a place where nothing else is bothering you, and you don’t have anything else to worry about. The silver lining of ‘no FOMO’— nobody else is going camping, can’t feel guilty about not going to a family event or birthday party. It is you, and your family, with minimal interruptions. I am getting to spend 15 times the amount of time with my daughter, and this is fantastic. We have two incomes. We feel extremely grateful and fortunate for where we are and it is kinda awesome. I realize that sounds short-sighted to the rest of the world.”
      • “I am talking more to my younger son. He is home more, and I like that. And I mean talking with him. They are not deep conversations— he is a teenager— not tell me about your feelings, but we have the time to sit and have a conversation go away and do something and come back to it an hour later. Compared to, if we dont finish this now, it could be days before we talk again. That is the important thing. That is how you build a relationship, which is weird. To say about someone in your family”
      • “Spending time with my daughter, parenting. It used to be that a lot of my interactions with her were transactional, getting her up and ready and out the door, and when I got her home, we would have an hour and a half on a good day before bedtime. And we have got to make her dinner, get her fed, take a bath— maybe 30-40 minutes of real silly playtime. And it is not a surprise, but we have had more time to discover our daughters personality and we get to spend non-directed or non-directed playtime with her. Doing dumb things”

In General, Parents Are Overrun with More Guilt than Ever as the Balance Fails—

      • “We are always doing creative things to try to be educational, science projects, cooking projects, but ‘OH CRAP’– now I am responsible for this math concept he is going to have to pull from next year. Less fun time”
      • “I wish that I could be taking more time away from work and enjoy more time with my kids. I was staying home with them, and made the decision to go back to work, and there was a ton of guilt [then] that I made my peace with, and this feels like an opportunity— and I wish I could break away more during the day.”
      • “I am jealous of all these people like, ‘I am reading this book or I am doing online streaming yoga classes’ or whatever. I am not doing SH*T because we spend 14 hours a day getting in a 6-hour workday and taking care of our daughter because she cannot self-entertain. After 45 minutes on Disney Plus, she starts yelling at us”
      • “The first day the kids were kept home a few weeks ago, I made a schedule and was like, ‘We can do this. We are gonna rock it.’ So organized, I was gonna have us change classes in different rooms— then it is totally devolved to Lord of the Flies here. I had to let go of that control. As long as we get the work done, and we get out and walk for an hour in the neighborhood. They ride a scooter or bike and that seems so primal. And you know, ‘THAT is our big AHA?’ Well, it is.”
      • “I have conference calls Monday at 7 until 11 PM Monday night. There will be no time to pee Monday let alone schoolwork.”
      • “Guilty — because it is doing the homeschooling with my eldest is so challenging. I cannot give him what he needs academically, and give the other two what they need for care. I cannot do those things at the same time, and keep them away from my husband while he is trying to work. He can’t jump up to help, and we have had lots of conversations about feeling that we are not serving anybody. It is another thing to feel guilty about. It takes me longer to do laundry, because I checked updates on coronavirus [on my phone] while doing it. And I feel bad, because that took me away from the kids”
      • “I am worried about the backtrack, and though everyone is on the same playing field, I worry he will not be ready for the next grade.”
      • “I have not done a good job of sitting down of making her sit down and do the worksheets. They told us they were more optional, not graded. If it does become long term, it might be more emphasis to have your child do this, for a grade. We might struggle more with that. I hated homework as it is. My sister, her kids are doing 4-hours of school a day. And I am like, ‘WOW, I am not that mom.’”

 

What They Told Their Kids About COVID-19

Parents Deliberately Keeping Kids Away from News, but Information Travels —

Parents, especially those with younger children, seemed to emphasize the social good of staying at home above all, in their efforts to mollify their kids and quell their questions, without producing heaps of fear. Information that parents shared with young kids was minimal, and not always easy for the children to understand— and despite best efforts, external information about the situation flowed to the kids through other channels

      • “The 2-year-old, we don’t have to worry about it. The 5-year old is getting more information by us talking to the 7-year old, and he was not contemplating what we were saying. If someone fell down outside he would say ‘is it because of the coronavirus?’— they overhear so much, even when we try not to. I don’t know where — but they heard it came from bats, but they are scared they will see a bat, even though they have never seen a bat in their lives. We are glazing over it a bit, we say that we want to keep everybody safe right now, and the best way is to stay at home. Mr. Rogers-like stuff about wanting to love each other and care for everybody. He worries about it a lot. All of their hygiene has improved. No details, we never have the news on when they are around. I cut off my husband, when he says stuff [about the coronavirus] during the day. When they ask why we can’t go places, we say we are going to keep people safe, and not go outside”
      • “We told her there was a virus and we explained it like, sometimes you get sick and dont feel well— but cant see what made you sick. And usually, we know how to make you better, but now there is not something to make us better yet. I think it is hilarious, she goes to the window and yells at people to Go home for the virusand I wish I could”
      • “We have not sat down and talked and said here is an epidemic affecting the world. We said, ‘Something big has happened, and we have to social distance.’ We have not had the big sit-down conversation, but he is catching bits and pieces. This is something that will affect them and this age— catch as catch can, educate and inform along the process as opposed to sit down and hammer it home.”
      • “[For teens] you deal in facts and only answer the questions thats is asked. You are honest about where you are at without going overboard. There is a lot of ‘whats probable, whats possible, whats likely,’ those types of things. What are things we have control over. I feel great about how they are doing. The bigger challenges for us are less about the virus, and more about impact to their lives and the unknowns about that. Finishing school, when will I see friends again, those things. The answer to that is we dont know and dont know when we will know.’ It is hard enough for adults to live in a world where we dont know when we will know— it is harder to see teens live in that world.”
      • “I have been explaining that a lot of people are sick with a disease that no one has ever had before. They understand vaccines and shots, to stop people from getting sick. They understand how germs are spread because germs are everywhere, and we say that we are trying to stop ourselves form getting sick and also others. As children they were not really at risk, I explained, they were not the age group suffering but they could pass it on. They don’t really understand — ‘OH, this is cancelled and closed’ and then they still ask the next day, ‘Can we get this from the library?’. ‘No the libraries are still closed— the entire USA is closed right now!’ I have been telling them this has never happened in my lifetime. They have heard me say it, but they don’t realize how huge it is. I try to use the words ‘we’re safe’— that we are not staying home because we are not safe, but more about keeping other people safe. There are things in their behavior, I can see [in their behaviors] they are under stress, because life is different, but I don’t think there is anxiety or fear about the virus itself”

Thank you for reading Post 3 of my series on the first few weeks of lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which I interviewed 40 known participants on their experiences and emotional reactions to the crisis. If you’d like to continue reading, Post 4 is coming soon.

A heartfelt thanks to the people who generously gave of their time for this study, expressing difficult emotions about sensitive subjects, to further understanding of what people are experiencing at this unprecedented time.


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